Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Pastoral letter on race in the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder trial

Aug 12, 2013


Sisters and Brothers in Christ:


As you know, I have made an effort to be transparent in my communications with you and my leadership as your bishop. Sometimes it is easier to do than other times. This letter is coming to you at a time when it is difficult.


I was personally shocked by the results of the trial of George Zimmerman, murderer of young Trayvon Martin. I know many of you shared that shock. Yet I was slow in responding to it in any public way because the justice system seemed to work legally. (Remember: this is the opinion of one person with which many would disagree.)


Two things about this case particularly trouble me.


First, the "sign" it is of what I know to be abuse of power. I am not accusing the judge or jury of this abuse. I am saying that the murder of any person is, ultimately, a matter of misuse of power.


Second, and most important for us as the church, is the ongoing racism that infects our society and our various communities, including the church. So I invite you into a conversation about this set of issues.


I point you to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s social statement, Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture which was adopted by the Churchwide Assembly in 1993. But more than simply directing you toward that statement, I would invite you to use it as a guide for continuing conversation in your congregations and your homes.


I am also asking the Synod Council to give thought to how we might, together, address the reality of racism in our own synod in a more direct way. This is in keeping with our Strategic Plan, especially the Sent Committee. I expect that we will also work with our synod’s Multicultural Commission, our synod’s Working Group for Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness, and our ethnic ministry groups toward this goal of greater understanding of the wonderful gift of diversity.


I also realize that one of the "charges" brought against the Lutheran church is that we over-study and do not act. So I am hoping that the Synod Council and these other leaders will help me and all of us toward a more active response to the racism that surrounds us.


This does not help undo what I see as a terrible tragedy, the death of Trayvon Martin. It does not address what I consider to be an injustice of a broken legal system. But I hope that, in some small way, we as the church can help address the unrest it has rightly caused and work toward the common good of all people.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo




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